By the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, a number of serious writers from the east coast and elsewhere settled into life in Hollywood. Most of them complained as they cashed bigger checks from the studios than they did from their publishers. Hemingway refused to write screenplays but sold his books to the movies. Faulkner worked for the studios, but when told he could write from home, instead of on the studio lot, he headed back to Mississippi.
Others stayed, and almost at the same time, they began to see a story of Hollywood worth writing. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who browsed at Pickwick Bookshop, west of Musso and Frank and at the Stanley Rose Bookstore a few doors east of the restaurant, spent time at the bar. He immortalized Irving Thalberg as Monroe Starr in The Last Tycoon, his 1940 unfinished nod to the decadence of Hollywood.
Raymond Chandler, screen writer of The Blue Dahlia, also sat at the bar. He mentions Musso and Frank in his 1939 novel, The Big Sleep. His book was later made into the classic film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe.
In 1938, John O’Hara’s Hollywood story, Hope of Heaven, hit bookstores. The author, best known for Appointment in Samara and BUtterfield 8, tells the story of a studio rewrite man, Jim Molloy, who sounds like the same disillusioned characters that O’Hara’s contemporaries created. Says Molloy, “Maybe I am not the man to tell this story, but if I don’t tell it no one else will, so here goes.”
Nathanial West’s Hollywood masterpiece, The Day of the Locust, arrived in 1939. In the book, West takes the reader around Hollywood, including his own home at “Chateau Mirabella” on Ivar Street, or as he calls it, “Lysol Alley.” A friend of Fitzgeralds, he also drank at Musso’s.
Another friend of Scott Fitzgerald’s, Budd Schulberg, wrote a timeless story of power and greed in Hollywood with his tale, What Makes Sammy Run, published in 1941. Another devotee of Pickwick and Stanley Rose, Schulberg wrote of Musso’s too: “As usual I browsed around Stanley Rose’s until I had an appetite and then as usual I went next door to Musso’s.” He even mentions his favorite employee: “Amelio was the restaurant’s indisputable forensic star.”
Yet another friend of Fitzgerald’s, Princeton pal Edmund Wilson, wrote his book, The Boys in the Back Room: Notes on California Novelists in 1941. The title referred to the Musso and Frank-Stanley Rose crowd that floated from the back room of the book store to the back room of the restaurant.
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Through the years, most of the writers associated with Hollywood in one way or another made their way to Musso and Frank. In the 1960’s, crime novelist Jim Thompson, who had already written The Getaway, The Killer Inside Me and The Grifters, was down on his luck. He lived a few blocks away on Whitley and nearly every day he made the trip down the hill to the bar, now in the New Room. With all of his books out of print, he worked at his typewriter in the morning and made his way to Musso’s in the late afternoon. Ruben remembers him, just as he recalls Charles Bukowski, who, like Jim Thompson, often couldn’t make it home without help.
In his book, Hollywood, Bukowski wrote, “I was leaning against the bar in Musso’s. Sarah had gone to the lady’s room. I liked the bar at Musso’s, bar just as bar, but I didn’t like the room it was in. It was known as the ‘New Room.’ The ‘Old Room’ was on the other side and I preferred to eat there. It was darker and quieter. In the old days I used to go to the Old Room to eat but I never actually ate. I just looked at the menu and told them ‘Not yet,’ and kept ordering drinks.”
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John Fante, author of Ask the Dust, and other books, wrote “[it] was a glorious beginning to the new day, a rekindling of the will to survive, a renewal of one’s faith in mankind. A great charcoal fire roared in the grill, and a highhatted chef tended bacon, sausages and small steaks, the fetching aroma hitting your nostrils the moment you entered the room. You sat at the counter in a comfortable swivel chair, as close to the fire as you could get. The waiter brought coffee as soon as you sat down and French bread, but gave you a couple of minutes to pull down some hot coffee and smoke your first cigarette, before he asked what you wanted. He put the morning paper before you…You were content…You lingered on, watching the charcoal flames slowly falling into a profound lethargy. No doubt it was bad for you, all that coffee, all that cholesterol, all those cigarettes, all that time consumed. But it was beautiful and unforgettable.”